EEOC Brings Disability Discrimination on Behalf of Temporary Worker

While many employers are turning to contract labor, MSEC members are reminded that outsourcing labor does not insulate them from liability. In December 2012, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) sued Sony Electronics, Inc. and a staffing agency, Staffmark Investment, LLC, alleging disability discrimination against a temporary worker, Dorothy Shanks, who has a prosthetic leg.

Staffmark settled with the EEOC in June 2013, but the case against Sony has been ongoing. Sony recently suffered a setback, when, on September 8, 2014, a judge denied Sony’s motion for summary judgment.

Sony hired Shanks to work at a Sony facility on a temporary basis inspecting televisions. According to the EEOC, after two days on the job, Staffmark pulled Shanks from the job site due to her disability. The lawsuit also contends that during the EEOC’s investigation, evidence was uncovered showing Sony had requested that Staffmark remove Shanks from its facility. Sony denied this claim, and argued in its motion for summary judgment that it did not know Shanks was disabled or walked with an impairment and thus could not have discriminated against her based on disability. The EEOC claimed that Sony’s employees knew Shanks had a walking impairment and discriminated against her on this basis.

The judge ultimately decided that a reasonable jury must decide whether Sony regarded Shanks as disabled and denied summary judgment. For purposes of anti-discrimination laws, MSEC members are advised to treat temporary employees from staffing agencies in the same manner as employees.